• Mary Beth Chalk

Virtual Day Nine: Not All War Heroes Wear Uniforms

On this eve of honoring the military men and women who died fighting against evil tyranny and defending our freedom, we are mindful of the ravages of WWII in Tuscany. The demarcation line where the Allies ultimately began to defeat the German forces in Italy occurred in the Montepulciano area.

La Foce, an Italian Historic House with world famous gardens, was at the center of this conflict. The villa was originally built in the 15th century as a “hotel” for Christian pilgrims traveling to and from Rome. The dilapidated estate, purchased and lovingly restored by Antonio and Iris Origio in 1924, consisted of the villa and 7,000 acres of rolling Tuscan farmland and vineyards.

During WWII, and after losing their son to meningitis, Iris took in 50 local children to safely feed and house during the years of bombing and ground conflict occurring on the estate lands. In addition, they provided homes with land for 25 families and started a school to ensure that the children of the tenant farmers and those she protected were educated and cared for.

During WWII, Allied pilots were smuggled and housed onto their estate while, at the same time, German officers confiscated the house for their ground troop operations. Iris documented their life during WWII in her diary (buried for safe-keeping) which has been published. “The War in Val d’Orcia” is a stunningly intimate look into her life as a protector of those in her safe-keeping in the midst of hunger, deprivation, bombings, and even enemies sleeping under the same roof.

June 22, 1944 “The babies whimper from cold and hunger. The older children go and whisper to ours, frightening them with the tales that I have tried to spare them until now. We go up to the kitchen (during a lull in the bombing) and produce hot barley-coffee and bread and milk, the keeper having succeeded in finding a milking cow. The farmers’ account of their nights in the woods is not such as to encourage us to try to get through to the Allied lines with the children. Sporadic firing goes on all through the morning. . . And so, in a long, straggling link, with the children clutching at our skirts, half walking, half running, we started off down the Chianciano road. I did not think, then, that we should get all the children through safely. We had been warned to stick to the middle of the road, to avoid mines, and to keep spread out, so as not to attract the attention of the Allied planes.”

Tonight, as we pay homage to the losses sustained by both US and Italian families in WWII, we find ourselves listening for the sound of car tires crunching on the gravel driveway as it hails the arrival of our beloved family! It is a dolce notte in the midst of our homage to those who have sacrificed so much.

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